Deloitte: Hotel of the future will be more customized

The coffeehouse at the Charlotte Marriott City Center, a laboratory hotel where the company can try out concepts.
The coffeehouse at the Charlotte Marriott City Center, a laboratory hotel where the company can try out concepts. Photo Credit: Danny King
Hotel companies looking to boost guest satisfaction need to do a better job of integrating their guests with both other guests and the local community while designing their hotels to better reflect their local surroundings, consultant Deloitte advised in a report titled "The Hotel of the Future.

The growth of Airbnb and boutique-hotel popularity has increased guest expectations for unique design and decor. At the same time, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the increased influence of millennial travelers means that guests are looking for hotels to better customize service offerings to, for example, their profession, demographic profile or personal tastes.

Hotel firms also may be overlooking additional revenue-stream opportunities, such as offering guests the chance to buy the type of hotel furnishings and design amenities featured in their rooms or by designing rooms with more flexibility so that they can be rented out for meetings and business purposes, according to Deloitte.

"The emergence of boutique brands and other players suggest that many folks are thinking differently in how they participate in the industry," said Ramya Murali, senior manager at Deloitte and one of the authors of the 53-page report. "For the high-end luxury brands, select-service properties or more budget-oriented hotels, they're very clear about the [intended] level of customer service, and, in general, guests understand what they're getting. What we've tried to address is the midsection."

Murali added that the growth of chain properties as a percentage of total hotels in the past two decades has contributed to the perception that much of the industry is standardized and not equipped to address the personalization that many guests have come to expect. Last year, 71% of U.S. hotel rooms were within a brand, up from 67% in 2000, according to STR.

Deloitte's findings come at a time when the U.S. hotel industry continues to operate at record occupancy levels but may be plateauing in terms of customer satisfaction. U.S. hotels' RevPAR for the first three quarters of 2016 rose 3.2% from a year earlier, and occupancy held steady at 67%, STR said, but North American guest satisfaction in 2016 was little changed from a year earlier, according to J.D. Power.

As more guests become accustomed to standard amenities such as free WiFi and complimentary breakfasts, their expectations for personalized service have risen, J.D. Power said in the most recent version of its annual study last July.

While neither the report nor Murali mentioned any brands that were found to be either surpassing or lagging guest expectations (no hotel companies contributed to the funding of the report) there are signs that larger hotel operators are attempting to follow some of the recommendations made by Deloitte.

For example, last October, Marriott International unveiled what it called its first "laboratory hotel" at the recently updated Charlotte Marriott City Center. Amid the new amenities, the hotel added a coffeehouse that features locally sourced coffee and chalk art from local artists, a pop-up bar in the former cafeteria area and "beta buttons" throughout the hotel's public areas that enable guests to note whether they liked a particular part of the hotel.

Deloitte formed its recommendations based on interviews with frequent business travelers and leisure guests as well as by observing guest-employee interactions at various U.S. hotels.

Beyond performing services associated with traditional higher-end hotels, like having concierges secure difficult restaurant reservations for guests, hotels can set themselves apart by offering services such as keeping tabs on their business guests' professions and linking those guests through social media channels, according to Deloitte.

"You do run the risk of feeling intrusive, yes," Murali said. "But people overall wanted to feel like they were participating in something."

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